By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Car audio and video products for 2003 are catering, more than ever, to the booming trend in downloading music from the Internet.
Gen X, Gen Y and baby boomers are increasingly turning to the Internet as a source of enjoying music with a popular music site, Kazaa, claiming 160 million users have downloaded its file sharing software, at a rate of about 3 million new downloads per week.
Suppliers are responding by offering more hard drive HDD shuttles that allow users to transport music from the PC to the car. This year's new shuttles will include the first Wi-Fi capable model from Rockford Fosgate and the first unit to record directly off the radio from Eclipse.
In addition, suppliers are developing new music search systems to accommodate hundreds of MP3 files and they continue to add more MP3 and WMA capable models to their lines.
Downloading photos onto the head unit screen is also becoming a popular trend with several suppliers debuting CD receivers here, which accept photos and moving video from a CD-R or CD-RW. Summed up Alpine VP marketing Stephen Witt, "One of the most significant consumer trends is Gen Y's use of the Internet and downloadable media." When asked about the number of people downloading music, Pioneer VP marketing for the mobile division, Michael Towsen simply replied, "We just know almost everyone's doing it."
Making history at International CES this week is Eclipse, which is debuting the first car HDD recorder that can record off the AM/FM radio or any source which it it connected to, including a CD changer. The 20GB add-on piece also has a five-minute sound buffer so if you are listening to a song and decide to record it, it will pick up the last five minutes of the track. The unit is also removable for shuttling between the PC and the car. It is expected to ship in February at an estimated price of $499.
One of the more unique products to capitalize on the new digital music trend is Rockford Fosgate's Omnifi. It is the first wireless PC-to-car and PC-to-home solution, which lets you stream music and information from your PC to your car (within 200 feet). The Omnifi includes a transportable hard drive player for the car so users can shuttle the hard drive to the PC for downloading and then back to the car for playback. Or, users can purchase an optional 802.11 wireless kit for streaming information to the car. There is also a separate home streamer kit which is expected to carry a suggested retail price of $299. The car unit will carry a price of $599.
From Alpine is a new 16 GB hard drive HDD called the Media Driver (model HDA-5460). The single DIN unit can be used with Alpine 2003 head units, as well as separately. The hard drive is removable from the in-dash DIN docking station and it connects to a PC via a USB cable. It is expected to carry an estimated price of $800.
Panasonic said it is also working on future units which will employ HDD technology and possibly use PC cards, a spokesman said.
Both JVC and Pioneer are showing new head units which allow users to download their own photos and moving clips to the display screen. JVC calls the feature PICT or personal image capture technology. Available on four new head units, it accepts 90 still images and 15 seconds of moving video from a CD-R and CD-RW. Users can place images in file folder with a particular song so that the photo will pop up when the song is played. The feature will be available on two 3DLH series and two Digifine 2.3 models.
Pioneer is showing two CD receivers which accept images off a CD-R disc. Both the DEH-P7500MP and the Premier DEH-P750MP also have a new remote control with direct 10 key access for simplifying searches though MP3 files or XM channels. If a user has hundreds of MP3 files, he can go directly to a particular file by inputting a number, said the company. Both units also come with a new white Organic EL display, Supertuner III-D, MOS FET 50 watt amplifier, three high volt pre-amp outputs, and XM, MP3 and WMA capability. Shipping is expected in April at $380 and $400 suggested retail prices, respectively.
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